Authentic Self

I only feel it correct and kind to introduce myself. My name is Madeline May Schipper. Although, all whom know me, greet me by the appellation of Maddie or Madi (either spelling I am perfectly content with. Just not Maddy. This is no offence to all those Maddy’s in this world, it is simply I do not suit the ‘Y’ as many lovely Maddy’s do! However, I digress! Something my mind generally does – too many thoughts and neural synapses formulating). I am a twenty-two-year-old female, who resides in New Zealand. I am an identical twin (the elder by twelve minutes – does the birth order even matter for multiple births? A propensity to which I sporadically ponder) and am currently spending my days at home on assigned bed rest due to an umpteenth relapse of the pernicious illness of Anorexia Nervosa. A rather anticlimactic conclusion to my recent overseas journey to America and Europe, I must admit.

Anorexia has been a constant in my family’s life for the past fifteen years, which is not uncommon for many whom struggle with the illness. (I say “struggle” as opposed to “suffer” as one doesn’t suffer from a mental illness. Rather, I believe, we are more compelled to manage and confront the illness to the best of our ability, with the armour we acquire through each difficult moment with the illness. Suffer has terribly negative connotations associated with it, don’t you agree? I mean, I have a mental illness and think negatively as it is so let us keep all as positive as possible, shall we?).

The journey began when my sister, Libby,

experienced her first suicidal thought at the innocent age of eight due to the bullying that we experienced for our weight and appearance throughout primary school (as we matured prematurely, which is normal especially since we were healthy; growing up, then out, up then out. Many I am certain can relate to our growth pattern? If anyone you know, no matter what age, is being bullied, for any reason, please support them and attempt to combat bullying as it places utter turmoil on the vulnerable subject. Words can be cruel and remain ingrained). Libby was, at the time, a more sensitive soul and allowed all words to become entrenched in her mind so to invite rumination. These thoughts and surreptitious detrimental behaviours that she established manifested over the next few years leading to a three-month intensive admission in the local children’s hospital, Starship. She was fed through a nasogastric tube, prodded and pocked with needles constantly and lived in a depressed state for quite some time. The following year Libby relapsed and discovered herself back in Starship for one month. After this, Libby endured two years having therapy at the Regional Eating Disorders Services (an organisation which all of whom frequented knew as REDS. The organisation is now under the title Tupu Ora if anyone you know is requiring this service). Fortunately, Libby was discharged whilst we were still in high school and to this day remains healthy. Although, she continues to battle the mental illness daily, Libby can place these thoughts and demands to the background of her mind as opposed to the forefront. Libby is my inspiration; I admire her beyond anything in this realm of our mere existence.

Life is a peculiar experience at times, as when Libby was in hospital fighting for her life, after starving and denying herself from nutrients, liquids and joy for such a long duration of time, I would visit and spend every day with her, eating what she would eat, so to present to her that life is worth living. I would proclaim at the top of my lungs (and to the best of my ability), that I would “never develop Anorexia Nervosa!’. How incorrect my twelve-year-old self was.

Anorexic like tendencies became observed when I was turning the impressionable age of sixteen. Libby and I have always been driven, determined, studious, ambitious and perfectionists (although, we now understand that such ideals are not always obtainable or realistic, especially perfectionism). I openly enabled these traits to become me, completely disguising my true self in the process. After withdrawing from society, friends, family and loathing myself, I migrated to Wellington after seventh form to study Psychology which I adored! I was compelled to withdraw from this degree in the second semester of the first year, due to my ill health and dramatic weight loss. Subsequently I ventured home to recover for six months. The following year I began my Nursing studies at AUT (another passion of mine as I discover the human body to be such an intricate, fascinating and complex vessel. I desperately wished that a degree existed which amalgamated Psychology, Nursing and Nutrition. Such would be ideal. Unfortunately, not all proceeds one’s way in life for many good reasons) which, although stressful at times was the most rewarding experience. Until my second year, where my health declined and again, I was instructed to withdraw. My life felt as if it was on a repetitive cycle of stagnation; I was running on a hamster wheel and not being able to cease. Most days I still encounter this notion. However, at this time, deep down wanted to withdraw as I would not be living life as the authentic me, nor the Nursing profession, as I would not be fit for practice and how could I care for patients when I was not well? Especially when I had the mental health placement approaching. How condescending would I have been in this environment? To state a long story short, I was admitted into inpatient treatment (which exacerbated my anorexic behaviours as I do not fare well in group settings. No fault of anyone), then hospital to fight for my life, then I recovered and was able to work for the next year and a half. During this time, I regained many components of life that were eliminated, or that Anorexia found pleasure in depriving me of.

I decided to embark on travel which proved to be the best decision I have ever made, as my mind, body and soul became nourished; acquiring newfound appreciation, adoration and insight. However, here I am now at home due to allowing Anorexia to consume me whilst travelling, which I believe occurred due to me largely stepping (or leaping) outside of my comfort zone and not being in a routine, which I abide by daily. I am not making excuses, this is simply the insight I have discovered upon reflection. Relapses eventuate, and it is by no means to the fault of anyone. Such is life. Many do not consider Anorexia Nervosa to be a mental illness, as many think, that it is a physical illness or “disease” (NOTE: Please never express to someone with a mental illness that they have a horrible disease, or they are diseased, as it is not a disease! The correct terminology is illness. This is not due to all of us living with mental illness to be precious, rather one should utilise the correct terminology with all in life. Plus, in my honest opinion, it is simply being kind, compassionate and sensitive to other’s needs, which greatly goes amiss within today’s society). Yes, Anorexia presents in one’s aesthetics, but all is controlled and manipulated by the powerful mind, just like any other mental illness.

For those who are not aware of Anorexia, here are a few facts:

– A serious illness characterised by extreme weight loss, rigid eating habits / rituals / beliefs, surreptitious and or intense exercising, irrational ideas and thoughts pertaining food, dieting / food and liquid restriction, social isolation, depression, anxiety and OCD propensities all of which can result in death.

– Irrational fears of food and not exercising, which control one to the point of a distorted perception of their image and behaviours.

– Anorexics have personality traits of perfectionism, fear of failure, obsessive, low self-esteem, determined, ambitious and are generally type A personalities.

– Medically unstable; low blood pressure, heart rate, body weight / body mass index, low blood count, amenorrhea, decreased hormone levels, irregular cardiac rhythms, reduced weight, fatigue, insomnia, dizzy spells, fainting, dehydration, swollen legs, arms or under the eyes, increased body hair, loss of head hair, dry skin, nails and lips, poor circulation, anaemia, gastrointestinal issues, constipation, loss of muscle, kidney scarring, electrolyte abnormalities, loss of bone density (risk to Osteoporosis) and corroding / yellowing of the teeth to present a few.

– Anorexia (like ALL other mental illnesses) is NOT a choice made by the individual. An abundance of factors contributes to the development. Development of an illness can be based on a genetic component, switched on by an environmental trigger or psychological.

– Those with Anorexia cannot simply “snap out of it” or “just eat – it is easy”. The fears, anxieties and thoughts surrounding the behaviours are more complex.

– Anorexia Nervosa is experienced by both males and females.

– MENTAL HEALTH DOES NOT DISCRIMATE!!

– Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders recorded.

This is not a post to ask for sympathy or for reassurance. It is simply to present my life journey which has been overwhelmed by the illness. I openly express my story at every opportunity possible so to be authentic, but also in the hope that it may resonate with another; even one beautiful soul. This is to allow that other to have the confidence to love who they are, appreciate the mental illness, know they are not walking their journey alone and encourage them to one day have the desire to share their journey, as it is my firm belief that we all lead beautiful journeys, no matter what we encounter in life.

Everything in life occurs for a reason, whether it be positive or negative. I am most grateful and appreciative for the life I have lived thus far, mental illness included, as I believe that I have been gifted with this life to discover my purpose. I have not exactly discovered my purpose yet as my younger self would have ambitiously dreamt. Not having found your life purpose, no matter what age, is nothing to be feared; if you are living your best life, are content and have a supportive network surrounding you, such are most pertinent to a healthy life.

I implore all of you at some stage during this week, to allocate time to nourish your mind, body and soul; “me” time as you each deserve it! Goodness, we all do no matter what. It is not a selfish act, but a sagacious mindset to possess as if we are not functioning at our optimum, how shall we continue in life? Love yourself and all that you wonderfully embody! You are the only you on this earth, so live YOUR life as an original not what society or your thoughts stipulate you to be.

Lovelies, YOU ARE WORTHY OF A MAGNIFICENT LIFE!!

These concepts and sentiments have been difficult for me to accept and embrace, but they are necessary and hold immense value. Never give up on yourself. I am supporting you all and walking alongside you on your beautiful journey.

All of my love, thoughts and positivity,
Maddie xx

P.S. Below are two photos of me currently. I maintain a smile, yet do battle and challenge the illness daily, which is awfully exhausting (many of you can empathise and I commend and appreciate you all! ❤️). I present to you me now, not for any of you to emulate my detrimental behaviours, but to hold myself accountable to actually recover and heal. Give yourselves more credit for who you are. Credit is due.

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